- Name We say it’s okay
- Provider St Christopher’s Fellowship
St Christopher’s Fellowship is a charity supporting children and young people in care, leaving care and on the edge of care. Since opening in 1870 we have developed expertise in participation, ensuring that young people’s views are at the heart of our work.
Our participation team supports young people to be involved in matters that are important to them, not just issues that adults deem they should find important. However, we also see participation as everyone’s responsibility. The team supports the whole organisation to view young people not as adults in waiting, but as individuals in their own right with valuable contributions.
At St Christopher’s, participation gives young people opportunities to be heard in ways that suit them. We don’t just listen to them during consultation activities, surveys or council meetings, but in everyday conversations on the way to school or when we cook dinner. We think about what they tell us through their behaviour and choices, or when they say nothing. This means that young people set the participation agenda, which initiates changes that have the biggest impact. We use creative methods and group activities to start conversations and discover how we can change.
One recent example is the way young people review our publicity materials. St Christopher’s had traditionally asked young people to read new publications to check that the content was easy to understand, so a group of young people reviewed a new brochure and identified some overly technical language. But recently they had been creating collages about their hidden selves, which sparked discussion about how they instead wanted to verify how marketing materials represented them.
During the collaging, young people discussed stigma attached to being in care. They felt that professionals focused on poorer outcomes for care leavers, ignoring their potential and strength. They also talked about young people being negatively portrayed in society. By advising St Christopher’s on how to represent them as a collective, young people hoped to challenge these stereotypes.
Young people fed back to the communications department on the brochure and how to do things differently in the future. They asked to change photos, put young people’s quotes in large fonts so their voices were louder, and include stories written by young people to show they are agents of their own lives.
They then suggested a stamp of approval to prompt St Christopher’s staff to consult with them about how they are portrayed, not only in publicity materials but in policies, job descriptions and advertisements. They developed the “We say it’s okay” logo, which is added to St Christopher’s publications after checking that young people are happy with the way they are portrayed. This stamp encourages all our staff to keep young people central to their work and exemplifies how we value young people’s feedback.
Most importantly, this project changed how the young people felt about themselves. One young person developed the confidence to complete a photography course at college. A staff member from her children’s home said the project gave her pride in her achievements and motivation for the future.
This sums up our approach to participation. By properly listening in everyday conversations, we make changes across the whole of St Christopher’s that improve young people’s experiences. And of course, we checked this article with our young people before publication.
- Alex Jones is life skills and participation manager at St Christopher’s Fellowship
Participation in Action - My View
By Rose-Marie, care leaver
"St Christopher’s participation team taught me to speak up about my rights and what is important. One time we made self-portraits and discussed image, identity and how people think about us. A few weeks later, we read a St Christopher’s brochure to make sure it was easy to understand. We decided it didn’t matter if there was jargon in the brochure as professionals would understand this language.
"More importantly, we wanted to ensure the words and photographs matched our view of ourselves. Without the self-portrait discussion we would not have thought about this. This was so fundamental that we developed the “We say it’s okay” logo. I am really proud of this because it makes staff think and talk thoughtfully about young people. When people listen it can make big changes that help not just you, but other people like you too."